Aylesbury MP David Lidington is to play a massive role in reshaping Britain’s relationship with the European Union after Prime Minister David Cameron’s landmark speech offered people a potential ‘in out’ vote of Europe.
The Europe minister praised the decision to offer the British public a referendum in 2017 on whether the country should remain part of the EU.
He said: “Now we have a definitive commitment to a referendum I think we can have a debate about the issues. Speaking to my Irish counterpart she said that referendums are a good thing because people can engage with the issues.
“On the basis of a good package of reforms I think there will be a decision in favour of staying in and I would like to see that.
“It needs to become less bureaucratic and more flexible in facing up changes of the world but membership gives significant advantages to the UK in the single market.”
Mr Lidington will play a key role in negotiating with his European counterparts over the terms of British membership and said that he expects the European treaties to be reopened for debate in 2014/15.
He is also currently working on a scheme called Reviewing the Balance of Competencies between the UK and EU in which he approaches think-tanks, businesses and interest groups to gauge their opinion on what areas of membership in the 27 state union are positive and negative. The Europe minister will then present his findings to Government and the EU.
He said: “Overall I am co-ordinating across Government and I spend quite a lot of time talking to my counterparts. I’m trying to push the UK objectives as a whole.
“The review is the first time any EU country has done anything like it.”
Mr Lidington said that if the UK chose to leave the EU it would still need to comply with certain decisions and pointed to the example of Norway in how it could have a detrimental effect.
Norway currently pays towards the EU budget but without having any say on what it is spent on and the Aylesbury MP added it would not make sense to leave as the UK are one of the ‘most influential players’.
Aylesbury Vale District Council councillor and UKIP leader Chris Adams said that while pleased by the announcement he wanted a referendum to be held sooner to avoid any chance of a government U-turn.
He said: “I think it’s great that he (Cameron) said he’s going to offer it but why not now? It’s all ifs and buts. If the Conservatives win the next general election we’ll have one. But I don’t think he’s going to win the next general election.
“I think he’s going to go back with his tail between his legs.
“If UKIP wasn’t there in the first place I don’t think we would be even talking about this referendum.”
However, Mr Lidington pointed to the current Eurozone crisis as reason alone for not immediately holding a referendum.
He said: “First of all there’s a crisis going on. It’s important for our well being that it has top priority. As of today it’s very difficult to predict what form Europe will take after these changes.
“It will be a few years before we are certain how Europe is going to change.”